Truth: I didn’t get around to making dinner because of football—the TV wasn’t even on. If you know me, you know this is weird. I’m the kind of gal that would rather cozy up to an old episode of Lawrence Welk than a football game but Gordon Korman’s YA novel, Pop kept me in the game and I read through to the end of the story, hungry children all around me, and no mom that made dinner. OOOOPS! Thank heavens for cereal and a large jar of peanut butter.
Marcus Johnson is a pretty good football player from Kansas, uprooted the summer before his junior year of high school to a school that has just celebrated a perfect, undefeated season. Marcus wants on the team….but why would the team want to mess with perfection and take Marcus on…especially as Quarterback? They already have a star quarterback who led the team to its undefeated status.
The lonely situation of being new kid in town and wannabe for the school team leave Marcus with a lot of time alone…which leads him to Three Alarm Park to practice his passes. One day Charlie shows up and Marcus begins practice sessions like he’s never known. Charlie, is a man in his fifties but unbelievably good at passing, tackling, running, jumping—all things football. He loves to hear the “pop” of a good tackle. Charlie is so good, that at school practice, a super-conditioned Marcus gains the attention and respect of stand-off-ish players and the head coach.
Marcus wonders what’s up with this old man, Charlie. Who is he, why is he so good at football and why does he keep showing up to run drills with a kid he doesn’t know and refuses to call by the right name? Why do town shop keepers let Charlie just take stuff without paying? Why does Charlie pull weird sophomoric pranks that Marcus gets in trouble for and not own up to them? Answers to these questions have to do with being a small town hero, NFL retiree and Alzheimer’s disease...perhaps not in that order or in the ways a reader might expect.
For lovers of the game, Pop delivers complex football story, strategy and “game think”. Pop is also a page turner! There is drama in this book that keeps the reader hanging on for a resolution and just when there is resolution, a surprise ending keeps one turning until the very last page.
Pop is a nominee for the 2012 VA Readers’ Choice Award for middle school. I think it’s got potential. However, this book is a true YA story. The mindset is high school. One of the cheerleaders in the book has the “hots” for Marcus and that’s described in appropriate older teen terms. Many sixth graders could read through that and not blink an eye….but there are plenty of sixth graders who would shy away from that kind of story. There’s nothing over the top to worry to worry about. There’s one super short make-out scene that wouldn’t even cause a blush. It’s just that the voice of the characters and feel of the story is truly YA.
I loved Pop and am so glad I can now recommend a football book to kids who love the game.
Korman talks about Pop and how the story came to be in this short video: http://www.harperteen.com/books/Pop-Gordon-Korman/?isbn=9780061742286
Gordon Korman is one of those super-writers for young people. He’s got over fifty successful published books under his belt and there’s no sign of him slowing down. His website is fun, fascinating and full of cool information. The official Gordon Korman website is at: http://www.gordonkorman.com/
Korman, G. Pop. New York: Balzer & Bray, 2009. Print.